History, tradition and pedigree are some of the adjectives not usually used to describe UNH basketball, but after they faced a historic, traditionally elite basketball program of Temple Unviersity, you would think that the ‘Cats might be talked about in that regard soon.
On Monday, the UNH men’s basketball team traveled to the City of Brotherly Love, (Philadelphia), to face one of the most winningest basketball programs in the United States: Temple. In what could be labeled an upset, the Wildcats went in to the Liacouras Center and beat the Owls 57-52.
“It was a great win for us going against a program that has the history and pedigree like Temple,” head coach Bill Herrion said on the significance of the win. “[Temple] is fifth all-time in wins so to beat a team like that is a great win for the players, the coaching staff and the program.”
UNH held the lead for the majority of the game up until the final minutes. Temple rallied and took the lead 52-51 with 1:47 to play. Senior guard Jaleen Smith proved why he has the co-captain title. With UNH needing a go-ahead bucket, Smith made an aggressive drive to the paint and past Temple’s big men for a layup with 1:18 to go to put UNH back in front, 53-52.
Smith immediately transitioned back onto defense as he made a pivotal defensive play and stopped a baseline drive from Temple’s Quinton Rose that could have given Temple the lead. Smith pulled down a defensive rebound with 35 seconds to play and was fouled. He made both free throws to put UNH up 55-52 with 12.9 seconds left.
The Owls missed a three-pointer at the other end and Daniel Dion got the rebound and he too, was fouled. He made both foul shots to close out the game.
“He is one of [the] leaders and that is what a leader does,” Herrion said of Smith. “Although he had a tough night offensively, he stepped up defensively which was important. I think he is also a terrific rebounding guard.”
Smith’s late-game effort made up for his off night offensively, as he only scored seven points on 2-7 shooting from the floor. One positive note was that the guard hauled in 10 rebounds, a team-high for the game. Even with Smith’s late surge, it was sophomore forward David Watkins that proved to be the Wildcats’ most constant scoring option.
The Dorchester, Massachusetts native scored a career-high 15 points in the game against Temple. More importantly, Watkins scored all his points on three-point shots as he made five of his seven attempts from beyond the arc. Watkins also collected four rebounds in the contest in his 19 minutes of play. As for the game itself, UNH’s lead was met with some strong resistance.
The Wildcats had opportunities to pull away, but Owl guard Obi Enechionyia prevented the Wildcats from gaining a commanding lead. Enechionyia heated up midway through the half and outscored UNH 9-2 to even the score at 18-18.
Junior forward Tanner Leissner and Dion made crucial three-pointers to put the Wildcats up 27-20. The Owls scored the next four and then came Jaleen Smith as he hit a buzzer beater to put the Wildcats up 30-24 going into the half.
Enechionyia continued to cause problems in the second half for the Wildcats, but UNH managed to hold him when it mattered most as it held on to win, 57-52. Enechionyia finished with a game-high 20 points.
`The win for the Wildcats improves their record to 2-0 for the season. When asked if the win against a basketball institution like Temple was a confidence booster for the players, Herrion had a modest response.
“I think it should. Getting a win like that must be a confidence booster for the players,” Herrion said. “But in college basketball you don’t get to enjoy wins for too long. We can enjoy it for now, but tomorrow it’s right back to practice then it’s Abilene Christian on Thursday so we have to prepare for that.”
The Wildcats return home this Thursday, Nov. 17 to play Abilene Christian University at 7 p.m. in Lundholm Gymnasium.